Thursday, February 22, 2007


Lately I had been feeling great; I was exercising well, had spawned no major disasters at home, business was good and I had even lost a few pounds; at least temporarily. Then Kay showed up with pictures he had taken at the annual Thanksgiving “Trot it Off” 5K run. In Kay’s photographs I look old, chunky and about to die from the strain. Seeing the pictures made it clear to me that I was not the prince I had recently imagined myself becoming; instead, I was still the same old toad I had always been. I could not help laughing out loud. Sometimes the truth is hard to bear.

Navajo Folk Art by Ray & Alondra Lansing
Navajo Folk Art by Ray & Alondra Lansing

Barry, Kay and I had some fun with the pictures, then, as he prepared to go, Kay made a comment that caused me to chuckle even more. As he started for the door, Kay turned back and said “Oh yea, I like what you write; I read your stories just like they were true.” Barry and I acknowledged that there are times when we even write the stories as though they are true, but for the most part we do not let the facts get in the way of a good tale.

As I thought about Kay’s comment in the days after his visit, I realized that between the ages of about 16 and 60, most people’s honesty gene becomes suppressed. All of the sudden we realize that if we are completely honest, we will never get a date, our grades will slip, our spouses will not be as affectionate, we will not get the raise or promotion we want and a whole host of other disasters may befall us. So we shade the truth and hide from the difficult issues, casting aside the maxim, “Honesty is the best policy” in favor of “Discretion is the better part of valor.”

Except for relatively rare occasions, until we are old enough to realize there is really nothing to lose, we favor moderation over candor. This was apparent to me a few days ago when Jana and I were invited to a Yei-be-chei practice at Jean’s house. The Yei-be-chei is a traditional Navajo ceremony which is rapidly becoming extinct. Locally there is a group of people who have been able to keep it alive. On the balance of the Reservation, however, not many individuals know the songs and stories associated with the rite. It is, therefore dying a slow and painful death.

The Yei-be-chei is one of two winter ceremonies that can only be performed from the first hard frost until of the first big thunder, so the recent skiff of snow was ideal and properly set the stage for the performance. The sacred ritual can only be performed within the boundaries of the four sacred mountains, but it is apparently appropriate to practice outside those confines, so we were treated to a glimpse of the traditional dance on our home turf.

When Jana, Kira, Grange and I arrived, I wondered out to Jean’s patio, which is an intimate space with a cozy fire pit. The fire was blazing, and the wieners and marshmallows roasting. The dancers and guests were loading up on dogs, chips, salsa and sodas, so I dug in. The mood was festive and snow was on the ground, so all the elements necessary for a perfect winter evening were in place.

As we stood around the fire watching the dancers, there were many questions I wanted to ask., but because I was unwilling to enter the mine field of cultural questioning, I held back.

In a moment of complete honesty and openness, one of the dancers asked if we wanted to know anything about the dance. In spite of the invitation, I was still a bit wary, so I did not ask the questions that were on my mind. When Kenneth stepped forward to explain the dance and answer all our queries, the cultural divide collapsed.

Navajo Humpback Yei Rug by Luana Tso
Navajo Humpback Yei Pictorial Rug

He explained that the Yei-be-chei is a nine day ceremony, that it is associated with the constellations, that there were seven male constellations and eight female constellations associated with the dance. I could not help thinking the women always get more than their share. When he explained the constellations represented the body, and that the females needed one extra because they are the keepers of the womb, I was satisfied that it was a fair exchange.

We discussed the kinaalda, the Navajo coming of age ceremony, and a variety of other issues in complete openness. The honesty and directness of the questions and answers was astonishing. The heavens opened and we were all blessed with new understanding.

I felt my honesty gene pulsating, and thought that maybe I had been wrong about truth. By being open about such important issues, we just might find a way to help preserve the Yei-be-chei and other important rites for our children and grandchildren. Now that would be princely.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2007 Twin Rocks Trading Post

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